No Joakim Noah (plantar fasciitis in left foot).
No Luol Deng (sore left knee).
Derrick Rose, who entered the game with a bruised left knee, collided with Mike Bibby in the first quarter and spent the next several minutes on the court in obvious pain. Eventually, he hobbled to the locker room. I was taking part in the ESPN Daily Dime chat, and the Bulls fans in attendence– myself included — reacted like the President had just been shot. I’m not kidding. Watching D-Rose writhe around was terrifying.
The good news? Rose eventually returned and ended up scoring a game-high 24 points. The bad new? It took Derrick 24 shots to score those points…and Chicago went on to lose by 24 points anyway. I guess 24 was just the magic number.
But you know what? I’ll take the loss for Rose to be okay.
Said Derrick: “It’s still hurting a little bit. The force of him just running into me is still getting to my knees. Yesterday it was kind of to the side of my knee. This time, it was right on the side of my kneecap. It hurt, but I tried to fight through it.”
And relief washes over me in an awesome wave.
Rose was clearly not 100 percent after the collision, but that didn’t cause this blowout. Noah (11.4 RPG) and Deng (7.5) are the team’s leading rebounders. Without them, Atlanta outrebounded the Bulls 63-37, including 22-8 on the offensive glass. Simply put, the Hawks core Chicago down withrebounding, especially Josh Smith, who finished with 18 boards (including 6 on the offensive end).
The Bulls actually held Atlanta to 44 percent shooting, but you can’t give a good team that many second opportunities. Not when you’re already shorthanded and your best player is banged up. But give credit to the Hawks. they were aggressive and relentless, which explains their 30-15 edge in free throw attempts.
The crazy thing is, the Bulls actually pulled to within six points (85-79) on a 21-footer by Derrick Rose with 8:31 left in the game. Then they just…succumbed. Chicago proceeded to give up three consecutive offensive rebounds, which eventually led to a tip shot by Marvin Williams. Then the Hawks got three straight layups (the last of which was an “And 1!”), a couple open jumpers and then two more driving layups.
The Bulls ran out of gas.
The reality is, we’re not talking about a team with a huge margin of error. Yes, it’s true that every NBA team suffers injuries. But the Bulls were missing two of their top three players, andtheir top player was hobbled. After all, Deng isn’t merely Chicago’s second-leading rebounder, he’s also the team’s second-leading scorer and one of their top defenders.
The Hawks, meanwhile, are one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. Honestly? I expected a blowout as soon as I found out Deng was a scratch. I was actually mildly impressed the Bulls held out for as long as they did. But once the flood gates opened, the water poured in.
Chicago was outscored 41-24 in the fourth quarter.
It’s hard to get a grip on this “new” Bulls team. With John Salmons and Tyrus Thomas playing — and, in all fairness, playing well — elsewhere, Vinny Del Negro is clearly searching for a new rotation. But that’s a little difficult to do when key starters are hurt or missing all together.
Said Del Negro: “We have to get Joakim and Luol back. Atlanta is a very athletic, strong front line. They are young and they have hurt us before. Obviously, that was the difference in the game. They would miss and go get it and control the tempo of the game.”
Noah probably won’t be back this week, but he hopes to be “able to play when it matters.” Del Negro expects Deng to return for Thursday’s home game against the Grizzlies.
Still, this is a really, really bad time for guys to be ailing. Here’s a snapshot of Chicago’s immediate (and rather gruesome) near-future: versus the Grizzlies, Mavericks and Jazz, then at Orlando, Miami, Memphis and Dallas, and then back home for a March 19 showdown with the Cavaliers.
Those are pretty grim circumstances, folks.
And unless Chicago’s medical staff discovers a miracle cure for bum knees and plantar fasciitis, the Bulls could very well slip back below .500.
1st timeout: Taken before a Hawks free throw (1-for-1)
2nd timeout: Miller jump shot (Murray assists)
3rd timeout: Taken before Atlanta free throws (2-for-2)
4th timeout: Taken before Hawks free throw (1-for-2)
5th timeout: Miller missed three-pointer